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I hate to bring the bullying topic up again, but over the last couple of weeks, it’s raised its ugly head a few times with my clients. When that happens, I know that it’s something I need to write about further. After all, awareness is everything:
We can’t change what we aren’t aware of…
The modern workplace is often seen as a space for professional growth and collaboration, where individuals come together to achieve shared goals.
However, hidden beneath the surface, there exists a pervasive issue that remains largely overlooked – coercive control.
This phenomenon, which primarily affects employees, can manifest in various insidious ways, undermining the well-being, productivity, and mental health of individuals.
In this article, I’ll shed light on coercive control in the workplace, exploring its definition, signs, consequences, and, most importantly, how to combat it.
Understanding Coercive Control
Coercive control refers to a pattern of behaviour employed by individuals in positions of power or authority to dominate and manipulate their subordinates.
Unlike overt forms of abuse, coercive control operates more subtly, making it challenging to identify and address.
Perpetrators of coercive control often utilise emotional manipulation, intimidation, isolation, and threats to maintain power and undermine the autonomy of their victims.
Signs of Coercive Control
Recognising coercive control in the workplace requires a keen eye for subtle signs. Some common indicators include:
- Micromanagement: Coercive managers often excessively monitor and control every aspect of their employees’ work, leaving them with little room for independence and creativity. I’ve recently written two posts on this topic, which you can read here.
- Gaslighting: Perpetrators may deny or distort the reality of situations, causing victims to question their own perceptions and judgment. For more information on gaslighting, click here.
- Isolation: Coercive individuals may attempt to isolate their victims from colleagues, friends, and family to establish complete dominance over them.
- Threats and intimidation: Veiled or explicit threats to job security, promotions, or reputation are used to manipulate employees into compliance.
- Unpredictable behaviour: Perpetrators may oscillate between being charming and intimidating, creating a sense of fear and uncertainty.
Incidentally, all of these behaviours you will see in antisocial personality disorders, including Borderline, Narcissism, Sociopathy and Psychopathy. I’ve written extensively on these subjects previously, which you can read here.
It’s also worth revisiting the Duluth Power & Control model, initially designed to support victims of domestic abuse. Its purpose was to take the blame off the victim and put it where it should be, on the abuser.
The model has been redesigned to encompass workplace bullying:
Consequences of Coercive Control
The impact of coercive control on the workplace and its employees can be devastating. Some consequences include:
- Psychological and emotional toll: Employees subjected to coercive control may experience anxiety, depression, and a sense of powerlessness, affecting their overall well-being. It will likely not just impact work but every aspect of their lives.
- Reduced productivity and creativity: A toxic work environment stifles creativity and leads to a decline in productivity and innovation.
- High turnover rates: Employees subjected to coercive control are more likely to leave the organisation in search of a healthier work environment.
- Erosion of company culture: A coercive leader can undermine the positive aspects of company culture, fostering an environment of fear and distrust.
Combating Coercive Control
- Educate Yourself: Learn about coercive control and its signs to better recognise when it’s happening to you. Understanding the dynamics at play can empower you to take action and seek help.
- Document Incidents: Keep a detailed record of instances of coercive control, including dates, times, locations, and descriptions of what happened. This documentation can serve as evidence if you decide to escalate the issue.
- Reach Out for Support: Connect with friends, family members, or colleagues you trust and confide in them about what you’re experiencing. Having a support system can provide emotional validation and help you feel less isolated.
- Speak to a Supervisor or HR: If you feel safe doing so, consider talking to your supervisor, manager, or human resources department about the issue. Present your documentation and express your concerns. They may be able to mediate the situation or take appropriate actions.
- Consult Legal Resources: If the coercive control persists and escalates, it might be necessary to consult with a legal professional, union representative or, if you’re in the UK, ACAS.They can guide you on your rights, potential legal actions, and how to approach the situation in a way that safeguards your well-being.
Remember, every situation is unique, and what works for one person might not work for another.
Your safety and well-being are paramount. If you ever feel threatened or endangered, prioritise your safety above all else.
If you’re uncertain about how to proceed, consider seeking guidance from a coach or therapist that specialises in workplace issues or psychological support.
Tackling coercive control requires collective efforts from employees, management, and organisations as a whole. Here are some steps that can be taken to combat this issue:
- Education and Awareness: Raising awareness about coercive control and its impact is the first step towards creating a more compassionate and inclusive workplace.
- Establish Clear Policies: Organisations should develop and enforce comprehensive policies that condemn coercive behaviours and provide channels for reporting such incidents confidentially.
- Promote a Safe Reporting System: Encourage employees to come forward without fear of retaliation and ensure that all complaints are taken seriously and addressed promptly.
- Leadership Training: Offer leadership training programmes that emphasise empathy, emotional intelligence, and respectful communication.
- Supportive Workplace Culture: Foster a positive workplace culture that promotes open communication, mutual respect, and work-life balance.
Coercive control in the workplace is a pervasive issue that demands our attention and action.
Coercive control is bullying. Bullying thrives where people see it but ignore or pretend it isn’t happening. Furthermore, just because someone doesn’t behave that way toward you does not mean another person’s experience is invalid. Bullies often hide in plain sight and can be incredibly manipulative.
By shedding light on this insidious phenomenon and working together to create supportive and respectful work environments, we can break free from the shadows of coercive control and build workplaces that nurture the growth and well-being of all employees.
It’s in our collective power to foster change and ensure a healthier, happier, and more productive work environment for everyone.
For more reading, as mentioned above, I have various articles on this and related topics, which you can read here.
If training would be helpful for your organisation, I deliver group training on mental health, communication and workplace bullying, plus I also provide one-to-one coaching in support of people who have been subjected to workplace bullying.
Finally, if you haven’t subscribed to receive my weekly newsletter, which contains my latest articles, news and special offers, click here. As a thank you, you’ll receive FREE access to my Factsheet on ‘Turning Self-Sabotage into Self-Celebration’.
As always, thank you for your continued support.